By Sandra Feldman, President, American Federation of Teachers
There's no mystery about what it takes to turn schools around: rigorous expectations for what students can and must learn, and order and respect in the classrooms. The following are some suggestions for achieving what parents and teachers both want from schools.
From Your Children...
Don't take it for granted that your children know what you expect from them. Tell them, show them and help them achieve the goals you have in mind.
You expect them to read. Reading aloud can be fun, especially with younger kids. You play all the parts -- villain, hero, clown. Make sure there are books and magazines in the house geared to their age level. Become a regular in the children's library. It's packed with books that have exciting and beautiful cover pictures that attract kids.
Designate a quiet time. Make sure the TV is turned off. Let your children see you reading, and talk to them about the books you're reading. You'll be surprised where the conversation can lead.
Expect hard work from your youngsters. Get to know your child's abilities and needs; then set realistic goals based on this knowledge. Have a long-term vision but take small steps to reach it. Monitor progress. When you're interested, they're interested.
Start developing good work habits early. Let your kids suggest the best time for doing homework, perhaps directly after school, after some play time or after dinner. Stay with the same time every day so it becomes a habit. Keep in mind that children need physical activity and movement -- they've been sitting in school for hours. Make sure the work area has good lighting and enough space to spread books open, and is far enough from the television to avoid distraction.
Be generous with praise for work that's well-done and finished on time. Encourage your child to reach for more, to try things that are harder. Emphasize that failure is in not trying -- that mistakes are what we learn from. After-school clubs, if they still exist at your child's school, also help stretch the mind. If there aren't any, get other parents to join you in a campaign to have them set up.
From The School...
Children need to know that hard work and responsible behavior add up to success. Teachers can't teach if some youngsters are acting up, preventing others from learning, so children need to be prepared before the first day of school for the kind of behavior expected of them. Nor can teachers bring out the best in their students without asking them to stretch their minds and lift their sights. After parents, teachers are the strongest advocates for your child's learning, always striving to improve the teaching environment. That's why the AFT advocates:
Ask your school's administrators what they are doing to meet these goals, what they expect to accomplish by the end of this school year. Are there workshops and programs offered for parents? Has the school linked with cultural institutions and businesses in the community for classroom enrichment? How does the school ensure that no child "falls through the cracks?" The Board of Education recently approved stringent new rules for discipline in schools. Have you received a copy of the school's discipline code? Your questions and requests may make good things happen.
Involvement takes a good deal of time and effort. Seek opportunities to communicate with your child's teacher. It can't be emphasized enough -- kids perform better when they know their parents really care about what they're doing. Join the parent organization at your child's school and make sure they hold some meetings at a time that's convenient for you. Look for the parent association's newsletters and flyers, they give an inkling of what's happening at the school.
Help set up after-school clubs and summer programs at the school. Whenever possible, take your child to visit museums, historic sites, parks and zoos. If you can fit these activities in, you'll enjoy them just as much as your children. No one ever said being a parent was easy -- it's a big job but when success comes, it comes for all of you -- and there is nothing sweeter.